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Adobe Photoshop Elements

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Adobe Photoshop has long been heralded as the unchallenged champion of image editing. So why doesn't everybody use it? Two reasons: the cost ($609) and the learning curve (lengthy). With its recent reworking of the old Photoshop LE, Adobe takes the Eraser tool to those obstacles. Priced at only $99, Photoshop Elements combines an astonishing amount of Photoshop 6.0's power with helpful, nonintrusive guidance.

RGB Acres

Adobe isn't quite giving away the farm with Photoshop Elements, but it's certainly being generous with the acreage. In addition to Photoshop 6.0's basic tools, Elements contains high-end features such as the History palette (making Photoshop LE's single undo seem like a bad dream), adjustment layers, dialog-box-free text input, the Warp Text and Liquify commands, GIF animations, and all 99 effects filters. Elements also opens and saves a full range of file formats, including EPS and PDF.

Some features are slightly scaled back compared with their Photoshop counterparts, but by and large, Adobe has left out only features that graphics professionals might miss. Most conspicuous by their absence are CMYK Color mode, recordable actions, the Channels palette, editable vector shapes, and advanced selection tools such as masking.

Another element missing from this application's periodic table is Carbon. Elements doesn't run natively in OS X, and Adobe is mum on when a Carbonized version might appear. On the plus side, I was able to pull in a scan while running Elements in OS X's Classic mode, despite a warning on Adobe's Web site that it couldn't be done.

In addition to borrowing from Photoshop, Elements offers a few features of its own. The most interesting is the Photomerge command, which does a commendable job of combining a group of images into one large, panoramic shot. Some new instant-fix features are less impressive: the Red Eye Brush tool and Straighten And Crop Image command yield haphazard results at best.

Element-ary School

Photoshop Elements may throw in a few one-click wonders, but such tools are contrary to Photoshop's technical nature. Happily, Elements excels at explain-ing the technical stuff. Rest your cursor over a tool, and the Hints palette displays a brief, illustrated explanation of that tool's use; the Recipes palette offers step-by-step instructions for common tasks, such as adjusting an image's tonal range and restoring damaged photos. And you can download additional recipes from Adobe's Web site.

Elements contains individual palettes for filters, effects (the prerecorded actions that ship with Photoshop 6.0), and layer styles. These helpful palettes give you visual clues as to how a particular change to your image might look.

Once you've mastered the basics and need in-depth information, the application's built-in help and 270-page manual can fill in the details.

Macworld's Buying Advice

Photoshop Elements gives you roughly five-sixths of Photoshop's power for less than one-sixth the price. That missing one-sixth is crucial for graphics professionals, particularly those working in the print field. But if you don't make a living creating graphics, this is probably all the image editor you'll ever need; it's vastly superior to both its predecessor, Photoshop LE, and Adobe's antediluvian PhotoDeluxe for the Mac. Photoshop Elements makes it easy and affordable to learn image editing the best way: with Adobe Photoshop.

Mergers and Acquisitions: The Photomerge command turns a group of images into a panorama.
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